Shop benefits customers, student workers alike.
A famous customer has ordered two dozen custom-made centerpieces, and the deadline is two days away.
"This is how we start: step by step," Kristine Henle-Blank says, a block of mossy green floral foam in one hand, a rectangular design bowl in the other.
"We'll use holly from the big holly tree," she tells her five designers-in-training, all of them students at Archway Programs in Atco, Camden County.
"Could someone please go outside and bring in the fresh greens?"
Henle-Blank stands at a work table inside From the Ground Up, a retail flower shop on the campus of Archway, a private school for special-needs students.
These centerpieces are to grace the tables at Pine Valley Golf Club's annual employee banquet. The renowned course in Camden County is one of the finest anywhere, and this is the third year it has ordered the decorations from Archway.
"It's a huge privilege," Henle-Blank says. "A huge honor."
An accomplished floral designer who lives in Haddonfield, Henle-Blank directs the horticulture program at Archway. The school offers a number of vocational and career training opportunities to its 220 students, whose ability levels vary.
"The [centerpiece] project is very cool," says Daniel Martin, Archway's chief executive officer. "We want to expose the kids to real work, and what could be more real than to have their floral designs displayed at such a prominent location?"
From the Ground Up enables students from fifth grade and up to learn about customer service, inventory, and other mercantile matters.
But on the morning I visit, the opportunity to be part of a creative team seems to be the attraction.
And as someone who delivered flowers during college Christmas breaks, I well remember how jolly the work can be.
"It's awesome," says student Zachary Prepsel, 18, of Bellmawr. "Making stuff, you get into a zone. It's therapeutic."
A longtime Pine Valley member named Paul Shields suggested that the club purchase the centerpieces from Archway and handles the arrangements every year, says Charley Raudenbush, the club's general manager.
"We're thrilled to be able to be part of it," he adds. "It's a win-win for everybody."
"Some of our students are developmentally disabled, and some are emotionally disabled," notes Cara Petsch, a Clayton resident who has taught at Archway for 13 years.
The students often lack social skills; in the shop, "they have to be buds and work together," she adds. "And they can take what they learn in this classroom and go get a job at a local florist or a landscaping business."
The preparation of the containers, the clipping, shaping and arranging of evergreens ("people are going to be seeing these centerpieces from eye level," Henle-Blank advises), and the strategic placement of ribbons and other golden touches is very much a collective effort.
"A vast majority of our students come from a very urban background, and to be involved in a project with the prestige of [Pine Valley] gives them a sense of importance," Henle-Blank says. "They've completed something. It's a sense of accomplishment."
At the dinner Thursday, "everybody loved" the centerpieces, Raudenbush says.
"They were all pretty, and the employees took them home," he adds.
"They are all gone right away."